Sunday, May 31

Dirty bird

Not being the natural mother of a small bird, I find it a bit difficult to keep my adopted child clean. Chip is pretty good at grooming his wing and tail feathers, but his poor little head has all kinds of dried food stuck to its feathers. One eye was briefly glued shut by an overshot of cat food from the jammed syringe. Here’s the problem: I am using a syringe that should be shooting West Nile Virus vaccine or something else that’s totally liquid into a horse. The syringe was never intended to shoot parts of cat food or pulverized seeds into a bird’s mouth. As a consequence, when a big chunk of food comes near the outlet, it jams the flow. If I put on more pressure, the chunk abruptly shoots out with great force, taking with it more food. The poor bird’s head gets plastered with cat food. I use a wetted cotton ball to remove the offending detritus, but that doesn’t work as well as the mildly selective beak of a mother bird. As a result, the little baby’s head gets pretty well plastered with overshot food.

I hope Chip finds a mate who’s attentive to his sanitary needs, because I don’t know if I can release him truly clean.

Baby bird feeding kit

The feeder syringe, shown on the edge of the mortar and pestle, is filled with today’s formula for Chip: a roughly 50-50 mix of cat food and a paste of pulverized millet and sunflower seed with a drop of olive oil and some water. Since the syringe is made for shooting liquids only, I had to drill out the tip a bit to allow some chunks to pass through. Chip loves this mix enough to display the “Feed me! Feed me!” display of nearly-weaned birds, with the outstretched wings and gaping mouth. Additionally he gets drops of water slowly squeezed from a cotton ball. He has been flying back and forth in his rat cage today, and is actually gaining altitude. He still weighs only 7 grams, though. Perhaps he’s burning off baby fat and developing strong flight muscles. He never shuts up, and his peeping frequency is a bit faster. It will be so nice to see him fly off into our recently-enlarged sky.

Life behind bars

A crummy picture, for sure, but it does show the essence of Chip’s new digs, an old cage once occupied by a pet rat. I took this picture when the bird was silent after a really big meal of watered-down canned cat food. Before the feast, he weighed in at 7 grams; afterwards he weighed 8 grams. His weight increased by 14%. Imagine eating enough food to increase your body weight by 14% in one meal!

The reason for the cage is that in his older space, a rat trap, he couldn’t practice flying. Whenever I took him out of the trap and let him do what he wanted, he flew! His tail feathers are shorter than his beak, yet he flew! Several feet, and mostly with an elevation loss, but still…

I predict he will be releasable in a week. Hope he fares well in the outdoor world, especially with the newly-enlarged sky that Hilary and Luke have been making by cutting down that big oak tree.

Saturday, May 30

Casual cat

Florence, official mouser-in-training for the Muir Trail Ranch, seems to be totally oblivious to the incessant chirping coming from only one room away where Chip chirps. But you just know that her little pea brain is churning, neurons and synapses processing input signals at scarily high voltage, while at the same time giving an unsuspecting onlooker the totally believable vision of detached coolness. You can even admire her impression of bloodless road kill, as shown above. Clever cat, she.

Only moments earlier I clapped loudly as she was stretching her lithe body from the floor to the table-height safe space where Chip chirped. She’s an interesting cat, the only one I have ever seen who sits on her haunches with her front feet tucked against her chest—just like a rabbit. But she’s no vegetarian, that’s for sure. And she’d like nothing better than a little hors d’oeuvre like Chip.

Friday, May 29

OK, it’s a boy

I am not a birdwatcher in the sense of being able to identify the specific DNA of each observed candidate. To me, birds fall into very few categories: Large, Medium, and Small. Those categories can be further differentiated into Brown, Green, Gray and Yellow, with Black for Ravens. And maybe Red. It’s kind of like horses; they’re mostly brown with variations.

So, with my discrimination limitations understood, I came to the conclusion that our new resident is a guy, since he is suffused with yellow feathers on his front side. The distaff side of finches are gray-brown in that space.

This little guy has discovered his vocal expression ability—he won’t shut up! He cheeps every 2/3 of a second (every 0.67 second, metric) even if I hold him in very warm hands. His eyes close as if he were going to sleep (PLEASE!), but still he cheeps. I have discovered anecdotally that covering birds to exclude light puts them to sleep. Nope, doesn’t work for this guy. Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep. Maybe he doesn’t know he’s a bird yet. Yeah, that’s it—he hasn’t discovered his essence.

Not to digress from the subject at hand, but I do remember once or twice how chickens react to a solar eclipse. Even with only a quarter of the sun being obscured by the crossing moon, chickens I have lived with headed for home to roost! It was really weird; the cooling effect of the partially-blocked sun was rather remarkable, but the dimming was what turned on the chickens’ reaction. Very sensitive creatures, they. Chickens are great. Too bad they have such a poor reputation for intelligence; when they’re free to run their own lives, they’re brilliant and admirable and creatures you can love.

Photo: Hilary Hurley Painter

Mom! Is that you?

Yesterday afternoon Hilary and Luke were enlarging the sky by cutting more of the dead oak tree that would be a fire hazard. Among the fallen branches, she found a cute little round nest with a cute little round bird in it. After checking it out, we put the bird and nest in a nearby tree to see if the parents would find their kid. They didn’t, so it became a ward of the family. Since I had successfully raised other birds on canned cat food, it was time to try again with this one.

At first, it hunkered down in the nest, trying to hide from the huge humans that loomed over it. We loaded a syringe with watered-down NEW Improved! Science Diet gourmet beef entrée adult Cooked in Savory Juices! and slowly squeezed bits of it at the bird. No response, so it was time to pry its reluctant beak open and squirt some in. Then I remembered that on my iPod touch I had an application listing birds of North America, complete with their calls!

After eliminating the obvious ones like the California Condor and King Crow (and emu, albatross, and dodo), we found that this little guy responded well to the sound of a whole bunch of Goldfinches, especially Lawrence’s and Lesser. Kind of cool, we thought!

This morning the bird was well rested and feeling good enough to jump out of the nest and flap his wings. He responded to the iPod’s tiny built-in speaker chirping at him by opening his mouth wide enough for some pretty good shots of cat food, then quickly made himself a nuisance by jumping all over the place. All the cats were tossed out just in case this guy started to fly!

Everyone else took off to the Big City today, leaving me to care for little Chip (you just knew it would get a name, didn’t you?). The name Chip is sufficiently gender neutral till we see the foliage develop into something positive.

Photo: Hilary Hurley Painter

Tuesday, May 26

Making the sky bigger

Today Hilary helped me make some concrete anchors for the dock at the lake, while Luke tackled a large, dead and dying oak tree that posed a threat should a fire come through. Tonight we all plan to go out to watch the International Space Station fly over, so making the sky bigger is a really good idea! I hope the astronauts/cosmonauts appreciate the effort.

Monday, May 25

An exciting minute

Occasionally I check Tonight they led me to the site where you can enter your US or Canadian postal/zip code and see what will be flying overhead on a given day. Tonight at 10:11 the International Space Station was supposed to fly over our place. I grabbed Karla away from her Godfather III and we looked skyward/northwestward to see a brilliant and very large light fly overhead at an astonishing speed. Good grief! Those guys are going so fast it must take all their strength just to hang on, much less get any work done! Is there some way to slow that thing down?

Release day

Sorry I don’t have a picture for this, but today was release day of Biggie. Karla and I headed for the Big City to do some Big Stuff and took the Big Rattlesnake with us. He had spent several days living in the wood shed. Every day I took the lid off his bucket and fanned some fresh air in to keep him happy (yeah, right). So on an obscure corner on an obscure unpaved road off in the boonies we parked alongside the road, turned the engine off (to be able to hear oncoming traffic) and snuck to the dropoff edge of the road with the bucket. I pried the lid loose. As I pulled the lid away the first thing I saw right at the rim of the bucket was a flicking tongue. I tilted the bucket and out slid a sight to behold! This thing was huge! At least four feet long, and fat! I was more impressed than when I first nabbed this snake, and think it was one I saw last year on our place but couldn’t capture. Gorgeous, terrifying critters. I’m sure glad they don’t give me chills, but during the summertime, that could be handy.

The beauty of leaking

I’m sure I’m culturally biased, but the aging process going on with the half-barrel here is beautiful. To a wine maker or a whiskey maker, the barrel would look terrible; their barrels are pristine oaken examples of cleanliness and perfection. When I made my three-half-barrel fountain, my intention was to have fish live in it. The water here has quite a lot of minerals in it (mostly calcium, I hope), and evaporation would make it more and more calcified and bad for fish. So I intentionally let the cracks weep water, and the split bamboo spouts that move water from barrel to barrel aren’t sealed tightly. In other words, the whole thing has lots of leaks. The levels are maintained by an external tank with a float valve that keeps everything full. Before marauding raccoons found them, the fish were thriving, so I guess that’s proof that leaky fountains work.

Friday, May 22

Delightful slime

For the past few nights, it’s been a little quieter around here. What has changed? I noticed a little wad of organic matter attached to one of the horsetail shoots in the fountain. It is clear, and has a few little tan commas in it. Aha! The quiet is from satisfied frogs! All their chirping has finally culminated in success in making an attempt to make more frogs. Yay! I’ve always liked frogs and their dry terrestrial relations, lumpy warty toads. When I was a kid I went with my dad to an appointment he had to sell a hearing aid to some farmer out there in the boondocks. While he was in the farmer’s house, I was outside exploring the canal that ran past the house. I caught a toad so big it reminded me of a football. Dad let me take it home, and it quickly disappeared from its well-appointed water-filled dish I had set up for it in my bedroom. Mom immediately knew it would end up under the really heavy couch and die. Turns out it completely disappeared; we never found even a desiccated corpse. As a matter of fact, none of my menagerie of wild beasts were ever found in the house after their escapes: no snakes, frogs, horny toads, fence lizards—nothing.

These tiny froglets in the fountain may magically produce among themselves another Clarence, a tame, house-living amphibian whose only mistake in life was living between a couple of dinner plates and getting smashed when they were moved. A new Clarence would make me happy. (I covered Clarence’s burial in my post of February 19, 2008, Clarence D. Frogge, R.I.P.)

Tuesday, May 19


You talk about cool! Today we ran forty or so equines through the usual springtime vet thing/farrier thing. They got their West Nile virus, Potomac Horse Fever, encephalitis, rabies, and various other nasty stuff shots, Ivermectin (wormer), their teeth checked, their hooves trimmed, and some of the recently acquired horses and mules got their Diamond D brands. New this year is embossing—no more hot branding irons, freeze brands, or tattooing, but an actual embossing machine gave them raised brands. The other horses are going to be so jealous!

Photo: Hilary Hurley Painter

Google gets foogled

Someone has figured out how to get through Google Mail’s once proud spam filter. This morning I got 15 emails, all with the same message but from a variety of sources. Canadian pharmacy stuff. There were no messages other than the spam. I guess it’s hard to manage millions of cheap computers in huge buildings with powerlines as big as firehoses running red hot. One benefit: When birds try to land on those powerlines, they’re cooked instantly and fall to the ground where roaming feral dogs munch ’em up. No more starving dogs.

Monday, May 18


If you know the size of the average backyard swimming pool, as shown above, you know the size of this rattlesnake. Just kidding. It’s a five-gallon bucket, but you get my drift. This guy/gal is one of the bigger snakes to be found around here in a long time. A breathless Hilary came to me yesterday from the corral and asked if I could use my usual snake-catching skills to pick this guy/gal up and take him/her away. Yellow snake-catcher and a white bucket in hand, it was the usual no-big-deal catching this fella/gal. Rattlers are so docile when approached by a noose. They simply let you slide it over their head and work the soft rope down the body to where it can grasp and lift the snake without hurting it. Into the bucket, slam on the lid—done. Time to give a neighbor a new pet.

Friday, May 15

Dog with headache

Sioux, official mascot of Blind Dog Coffee Roasters, is enjoying a much needed rest with an ice bag on her head. It seems she is simply exhausted after posing for Blind Dog’s latest label for their French Roast (Double up on Double Dark!) coffee which depicts a horse and rider lassoing and pulling down the Eiffel Tower. In the label picture, Sioux is observing this insanity from a hot air balloon. It turns out she is bothered by the combination of noisy propane burners and flaky aerial conveyances.

Look for the coffee at your local gourmet coffee store. It’s Sioux’s favorite!


The small light-colored object to the left of center is Karla. We re-visited California’s largest oak tree on Sunday, Mothers Day. The tree shades a half-acre and is a major producer of acorns; the ground under the tree has thousands of them. I picked up another batch in order to try to grow a huge tree (the last batch sprouted, but died before they achieved hugeness). I don’t know if this tree has been formally aged by a qualified dendrochronologist, but just looking at it anecdotally, I would say it’s about fifty thousand years old, maybe a hundred. The firewood from this baby could heat a city of 100,000 people for two years, or be made into biofuel to run ten thousand cars till their warranties expire and still leave enough fuel to run enough chain saws to cut another equivalent number of trees to…

We’re talking BIG!

Finally, something I could work on

I applied for a job at Intel when it was still spelled with the “t” dropped down. Wisely, they rejected my bid for employment since I was still stuck in electronics that utilized vacuum tubes. But the new large processor shown above has potential as far as I am concerned. As I transitioned into dealing with transistors, they were still discrete components. In other words, you could actually find a transistor, a capacitor, a resistor, a coil — real things, not vapor deposited on a substrate. This processor looks like it could actually have real parts. Wow. Maybe this is my chance.

I’m kidding of course.

One thing that remains in my memory: When intel decided I was toast, they notified me by snail mail from Mountain View, California. I was living in Los Altos Hills, California. I could spit on Mountain View from where I was. The letter was sent Airmail! Maybe they used a pigeon.

Picture courtesy of the Onion

Thursday, May 14

Flat! Drat!

Finally! Something worth blogging about! Nothing else has been happening: another batch of horses and mules came home; we ran across six baby birds, a few hundred tadpoles, a baby mouse, and a rattlesnake when taking the tarp off the haystack; the pigs decimated the spring that feeds the horse trough; Karla and I went to the annual Mother's Day flower show at the local iris farm, and visited California’s biggest oak tree (it shades about a half-acre).

But yesterday, coming back from the Big City with our 1,000 bandanas with a hiker’s map of our area custom printed, some new kitchen equipment for the high ranch, tons (almost literally) of new bedding for the log cabins, we got out of the SUV and Karla heard hissing. Not a snake, a tire! This makes the third tire in three days to go flat! One on each of two trucks and this car. We have been doing work on our road, and must have unearthed a cache of nails. Gotta get it fixed.

Finally, something to do!

Saturday, May 9

Is this the answer?

During the summer months we split into a company with two locations, operationally speaking. I stay here in the foothills and handle phone calls and emails. Backpackers send information that I put in a database that needs to be available to the folks at the high ranch up there in the wilderness. We both connect to the Internet via satellite. We use a database program called FileMaker Pro. I designed a form that holds all the necessary information concerning resupplies for hikers.

We have literally hundreds of people showing up at the high ranch each season to get their stuff. We need to be able to keep the database up to date regarding pickup dates, whether the hikers already paid for the service, and whether or not the package has been delivered to the hiker. Part of the phone calls I get come from parents/spouses/buddies/siblings: “Did [insert name of hiker here] pick up his food cache today? He promised to call me when he got to the ranch, and I haven’t heard from him.”
I say, “There’s no phone at the ranch, so that’s why he didn’t call.”
“Oh dear. I’m so worried he may be dead,” the caller laments.
“I wouldn’t worry,” I say. “Most hikers that don’t show up probably broke a leg and rolled into a deep canyon where they get nibbled on by rodents till they’re stumbled upon by a rabid assault rifle-toting hunter with a seething irrational hatred for girly-man hikers. The hunters usually release them alive after they’ve ‘had their way’ with them, if you get my meaning.”
“Whew! Thanks!” the caller says with a sigh of relief.

Our way of keeping the database files coordinated in the past has been awkward and sometimes one file would over-write another and wipe out data. I think I have finally figured out what’s needed: a central server where the files are accessible by both parties over the Internet. This requires a computer that is always on, and is the sole source of data for the users. The server will be at the foothill ranch since we have continuous electrical power. The high ranch sometimes runs out of hydro power partway through the season, then has intermittent diesel backup that turns off at 10 at night and sometimes during the day. At the lower ranch we have solar power, so we can’t have a power-hungry server going day and night. I hope we can install the unit shown in the picture, an Apple Mac Mini computer. It doesn’t have a keyboard, mouse, or display; it’s just a power-sipping little teensy computer.

I hope this blog entry helps readers who have two locations that need to access and update data in a coordinated fashion and have intermittent power at one location, satellite Internet communications, limited solar power at the server’s location, non-existent telephone access at the most important location and callers who are worried to death about loved ones/buddies/spouses/rivals.

Thursday, May 7

In the home stretch…

You can lead a horse or three and a couple of mules to water, but you can’t keep them from…

trashing a neighbor’s house! We’re not sure how we’re going to explain this to the Gerbers.
But finally here we are in safe territory, the gate to Dryad Ranch, which abuts our place. This is where we let them go with the hope that they don’t choke on all the fresh green grass. These critters have spent a winter in Death Valley at the Furnace Creek Ranch Stables, where their diet consisted mostly of hay cubes with lots of nice supplements, but little to no fresh green grass that sticks up out of the ground that they can walk on and roll in. I’m sure they’ll stuff themselves on what must seem like endless dessert.

Wednesday, May 6

Object of desire

There’s an outfit in Arizona that makes the best decorative tiles! We have bought several of their products over the years in places all over the West. New Mexico, Arizona, even California! We finally found them on the Internet and contacted them to produce some tiles for our place at Florence Lake. Today they sent me a proof of a design I whipped up at the behest of Karla, and I think it will be a super seller. It measures 6 by 6 inches, the standard size for an Italian terra cotta tile. The colors are hand applied in nice thick glazes and the tile is indestructible in normal use. Our initial order is a little over a hundred, but I have the feeling we’ll be re-ordering a whole lot!

Also, we have a couple hundred refrigerator magnets coming with the same design. Wow.

Tuesday, May 5

The hundred-thousand-dollar-plus hamburger

As a former wannabe airplane pilot, I ran across the expression “The hundred-dollar hamburger.” It refers to the desire on the part of a private pilot to find an excuse to get in the airplane and fly somewhere for no real reason. So she would say something like, “The weather’s great. Let’s fly to the Harris Ranch restaurant and get something to eat.” Thus, counting for fuel and maintenance and insurance: The Hundred-Dollar Hamburger.

Pictured here is the Hundred-Thousand-Dollar-Plus Hamburger. There is no way the president and vice-president can travel even five feet from the White House without involving a whole fleet of limos, SUVs filled with Secret Service agents, police, helicopters and fighter jets loaded with missiles, and other secret stuff we can’t even imagine making it safe for them. Plus the advanced guard of tasters to make sure the meat isn’t poisoned and the sharpshooters on roofs all around the burger joint ready to terminate anyone who even sneezes without permission.

In the Associated Press story, the two paid with cash they withdrew from their own pockets. It probably struck them as strange that they could exchange colorful pieces of paper for food.

And the whole story is presented as “aren’t our leaders just regular folks”? Yeah, right.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak


I was hoping that the solitaire game I play would have some built-in surprise goodies, like when I finally get to the 15,000th game, it would let me win. But no, that benefit was not there.


Maybe it takes 20,000 games.

Monday, May 4

Fixing a pipe

Here’s how you fix a leaky coupling. First discover where it is. Then cut it out. Then push on a new repair coupling. Finally, fake a smile for a job well done!

Saturday, May 2

Fifty to one!

Today’s Kentucky Derby once again makes we greedy folks wish we could do some even minuscule time travel. Like even one teensy day. Good grief! 50 to 1!

Mine That Bird. A $9,500 horse wiped out millions of dollars’ worth of horseflesh by winning the Derby by what?—five lengths? Its trainer drove all the way to Kentucky from New Mexico with the horse, taking 21 hours to do so. And he had a broken leg! This calls for a blockbuster movie!

An addendum: Read hhhorse’s comment below and click on the link to watch jockey Calvin Borrel’s amazing win on the previous day. Leading the field by 20 lengths! Also notice that he isn’t bouncing all over the place like the other jockeys—he is as smooth and unmoving as is possible. A commentator mentioned that the only muscles moving in his body were in his neck as he looked back at the rapidly diminishing field.

Interspecies communication?

Somewhere deep amidst the horsetail shoots above is a tiny frog. He can be heard, but rarely seen.

It’s so funny—sometimes a raven will land in the tree outside my window, hoping I will see him and leap to my feet to get him something to eat. If I don’t notice him for awhile, he will start cawing. Then if I still don’t respond, he’ll leave.

There are two small frogs living in our barrel fountain near the raven’s tree. They’re trying to attract mates, but so far not having much success. They’ll croak almost all night long, but if you make a particularly sharp noise, they respond with a croak even during daytime.

Now comes the raven. He waits on his branch and finally says Caw. The frogs Croak. Caw. Croak. Caw. Croak…

I could listen all day to their conversation.

Friday, May 1


The little puddle shown by the end of the hoe is right above a leaking water pipe. I had known for a while that we had a slow leak in the area, but the wet patch was so diffused that I probably wouldn’t have found the leak without a whole lot of digging. The Big Pig Dig of a week ago got the area freed of grasses and let the ground dry out to where I can now find the leak with minimal digging.

Then the fun begins—plumbing repair! Oh joy!